A great deal of the impetus and inspiration for conversations about transformational change in our modern school systems (in most cases, we are still at the conversational level) comes from the new realities presented to us by advances in digital technology. Exciting new possibilities for engagement with content, with context, as well as with new forms of role and relationship are all part of the suite of possibilities now being presented to us. And in framing these new frontiers, there are many who would have us believe that children growing up in these initial decades of the 21st century bring dispositions, attitudes and skills to the schoolhouse that should force us to seriously reconsider the structures, strategies and even the learning theories that have been at the heart of public schooling for the past century and a half.
I don’t disagree with many aspects of the conversation. I do, however, begin to raise my eyebrows a little when claims are made that today’s young learners are substantially different than when I was a child. A chill runs down my spine when those claims are pushed to the limit, suggesting that young people are somehow wired differently than they used to be. While I understand the metaphorical nature of these assertions I, nevertheless, cringe when I hear them.
Recently, I’ve been very aware of the way my two young boys move through the world, especially as they approach the beginning of their own formal schooling. What excites them? What gets them asking questions about the world: patterns, relationships, how things work, and why things are the way they are. What inspires their sense of discovery?
I’ve come to the strong (but not unshakeable) conclusion that things really haven’t changed that much in terms of the how, why, when and where of learning.
Luke and Liam have both loved “reading” for years. When Liam was 2, he could always be seen with a book in his hand. For both children, the foundations of their reading lives have been built on the family couch, in the chaise lounge upstairs and in those very special pre-bedtime moments. Word games have been a part of our dinner time and road trip conversations for the past few years, many times initiated by the boys themselves. We have learned to love playing with language, both in its discrete and granular forms and recently we have started to play with language as a gateway to humour.
We spend a great deal of time in the many conservation areas surrounding our town. More often than not, the boys will come home with souvenirs from our walks: coloured leaves, pieces of birch bark and even the occasional bug bite or two.
Both boys revel in being able to be outside on their bikes, racing up and down the street, saving the neighbourhood from fires and the bad guys (never bad girls) that started them.
Treehouse TV is a popular Saturday morning activity and now that they are old enough to control television remote themselves, its a ritual that affords Mom and Dad a little sleep-in time on the weekends.
Toy train sets, electric race cars, Lego and Tinker Toys have outlasted the electronic games in terms of engagement power and, I would argue, learning potential. As I write this Luke is now working on a 70-piece puzzle, while Liam plays with his farm set. All three of us are wearing fire helmets!
I love big picture, system-level conversations–I really do! I’m hoping, however, that as our discussions here and elsewhere turn to the topic of change through innovation, we don’t lose sight of the essential things that we have known for years about our children—the way that they come to the world with what appears to be an innate sense of curiosity, discovery and adventure. Perhaps the lives of our youngest pre-school children can provide the keys to unlocking some of the most confounding problems that we face on today’s education landscape.